Normally when you see the words ‘Not Safe For Work’ or ‘NSFW’ on the internet, it’s a warning not to look if you’re sat in an office, because what you’re about to see is either going to be pornographic or just graphic.
But don’t worry, there’s nothing of either in this review of Not Safe For Work, Channel 4’s latest drama.
Not Safe For Work is written by DC Moore, and is an inventive six-part workplace comedy drama (more about that term later). The series explores a generation who are struggling with the realities of 21st century work life and was described at the launch as “The Office on acid... ketamine and a bit of coke as well” and whilst that may sound a bit extreme, it is somewhat accurate.
The series boasts a great cast including Jo Hartley (The Mimic), Sacha Dhawan (In The Club) and of course the wonderful Zawe Ashton, who many will recognise as Vod from Fresh Meat.
The opening episode begins with Katherine, a civil servant who is reluctantly relocated from London to Northampton as part of public sector cuts. Katherine is played by Zawe Ashton, and when we first meet her, she's describing what she got up to that weekend - “Got divorced, then pissed... alone.”
Katherine comes across as someone who is very troubled by secrets in her past, and being relocated to Northampton may end up being the last straw for her. Not only has she had to move to Northampton, but she'll be working with Anthony, played by Tom Weston Jones, who is the man cited in her divorce papers. In the words of today, #Awkward.
Katherine is a rather complex young woman, and in the first episode we merely scratch the surface of what's hidden underneath.
We know she's passionate about her job but we know how deeply tragic her personal life is, she’s suffered a failed marriage, an encounter at work which comes back to haunt her and all doesn’t appear to be a very happy soul... and we're not entirely sure why yet. And it's for this reason that I can't wait to see Katherine's story unfold and Zawe as an actress, shine.
I’ve always been a fan of Zawe and her work, and what excites me the most is knowing that the best is yet to come from her, not just in the rest of Not Safe For Work, but the rest of her career.
If you look at the likes of Sheridan Smith and Olivia Colman, two of our leading television actresses they did a lot of television before they achieved the critical acclaim that they're receiving today, and deservedly so. Constantly working allows an actor to perfect their trade and learn from those around them, and without sounding cliched, the future is very bright for Zawe Ashton.
We then meet Danny, played by the brilliant is Sacha Dhawan (In The Club, Utopia). First impressions? A drug-taking alcohol who gets so drunk he ends up urinating through the letterbox of where he works after falling to get into the building.
Somehow Danny has found himself managing the Immigration Pathway in the Northampton, the very office Katherine makes her way to in episode one. I say managing, but Danny never does any work. He’s either playing computer games, getting drunk or getting high... sometimes all at the same time.
His PA Angela, played by Jo Hartley, is a female version of Danny. Likes a drink, likes to take substances and likes to do very little (if any) work. The two of them on screen is fantastic, the chemistry between each of their characters is so car crash that you can’t help but watch. Will either of them clean themselves up as the series goes on? Who knows... but I wouldn’t place a bet on it.
I really enjoyed Not Safe For Work and can’t wait to see how the story develops. The characters are great, the story is intriguing and I can't wait to find out more, but the term 'comedy drama' is not one I'd use to describe Not Safe For Work.
If I'm honest, comedy drama is always a genre I've struggled with, it's overused and often not used properly. There are very few occasions where something works both as a comedy and a drama. Cold Feet and more recently Stella are two examples of comedy drama being a perfect label.
Nowadays the comedy drama label is one that's used for programmes that aren't quite good enough to be called a drama or funny enough to be a comedy, and often the result is a fluffy piece of television that can't really be taken seriously in either genre.
I'm pretty confident that if Not Safe For Work was labelled a drama it will perform better than as a comedy drama. The main reason being that people will tune in expecting laughs, and if I'm honest, they won't get them.
There's black comedy throughout but that doesn't make it a comedy, however the well-constructed storylines and characters do merit it being labelled a drama. You only have to look at Babylon on Channel 4, to see how the wrong labelling can affect a programme. I had several people say to me that they enjoyed it, but it wasn't funny, they didn't laugh. But had it been labelled a drama they would have enjoyed it better. The TV adverts called it a comedy drama which sets up the wrong tone and can often damage a series.
People in TV need to be confident in labelling a drama a drama and a comedy a comedy. It seems simple, but unless it fits into the mould perfectly, like Cold Feet and Stella it can do the programme a disservice.